In the Cookieless Future, Advertisers Will Need to Revisit Ethics, Trust and Transparency

Bridging the gap between customer data and experience

As customer journeys become more complex, the need for brands to track and connect customer engagements becomes even more important. And, with stricter industry regulations gradually phasing out the use of third-party data and the discontinuation of the cookie on the radar for more than a year, companies must consider and extend their data capabilities beyond traditional, probabilistic methods. Without cookies, customer journeys will become disconnected, making it difficult to track them.

It’s time for some soul searching

We are now forced to look at our marketing differently. But is that a bad thing? To get ahead of the game, businesses need to look at the way they court their customers, and what the nature of the current relationship truly is.

For instance, who is in charge of that relationship? Is it the business or the technology provider that enables their engagement? This naturally leads to other questions, such as how your business wants to connect with customers. How can a stronger relationship be forged in ethical ways? If it’s about value exchange, how can a balanced equation be achieved?

One of the reasons why cookies have survived so long is because technology outpaces legislation. Likely, most companies always knew that using cookies was a little “gray” but chose to do so anyway. To survive in a cookieless world, those ethics need to be revisited. After all, today’s customers are a lot more knowledgeable than companies give them credit for and will be sensitive as to how their data is collected and handled. To earn their trust, transparency and ethics are immeasurably important.

Looking to zero-party data

The silver lining is that the end of third-party cookies is not the end of data. It will be the beginning of something better instead.

With third-party cookies positioned to fade within a year or two, “cleaner” data now has the chance to grow and evolve. There’s simply too much value to be derived from advertising revenue, so while things will certainly change, customer data will remain one of the most heavily invested in areas of any modern business.

In addition to unlocking and activating first-party consumer data with the help of tools like customer data platforms (CDPs), increasing numbers of brands are going straight to the source. Forrester coined the term “zero-party data,” which it defines as: “Data that a customer intentionally and proactively shares with a brand. It can include preference center data, purchase intentions, personal context, and how the individual wants the brand to recognize them.”

A zero-party data strategy doesn’t force users to fill in their details. Rather, it’s built on a relationship of trust. It’s built on the understanding that by providing a “give to get” value exchange, consumers are more likely to share their information in return for a tailored, more valuable customer experience.

Valuable information can be derived from areas such as customer logins, newsletter subs and chatbot conversations. Not only will this allow businesses to better understand their customers, the overall quality of attribution and actionable data science methods will also increase.

Inspiring activation

Once the right mechanisms are in place for collecting and analyzing customer data, successfully bridging the gap between data and experiences comes down to activation. The implementation of a preference center may be the first step in some brands’ zero-party data strategy.

Interactive experiences such as questionnaires, polls and quizzes give customers a genuine reason to engage. Incentives can come in the form of exclusive content, personalized recommendations, social kudos and loyalty points. It’s all about cleverly tapping into what’s appealing to the target audience.

For example, Dept partnered with global fashion search platform Lyst to launch an interactive, data-driven campaign encouraging users to discover their fashion DNA, unrooting which parts of the world have inspired their personal style. By using relatable, scenario-led questions in a quiz format, Lyst effectively gathers lifestyle-oriented data to generate a better understanding of its users, based on their preferences.

The time to change is now

User data will only become more and more protected as time goes by. So, you better prepare, as you can bet your competitors are. Regulators and consumers have wised up to the fact that advertisers have become invasive and cavalier with their details.

A shakeup of this size comes with benefits for both sides of the marketing coin. It’s the next natural step in the complex relationships between businesses and their customers. With the new digital landscape, audiences can feel more secure about their privacy, and advertisers can benefit from more direct and meaningful interactions.

Although the disappearance of third-party cookies leaves an unpleasant taste and forces us to follow a different strategy, this is the kind of strategy we should have been following in the first place.

It’s time for a better way of digital communication. Let’s capitalize on this opportunity.

Willem Blom oversees the performance, media and data practice at Dept, a leading global digital agency with over 2,000 thinkers and makers in 13 countries. Previously, Willem founded Expand Online, a digital marketing agency in the Netherlands that joined forces with Dept in 2015.